Investing in yourself pays off in business, personal relationships

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

“I feel like I’m always walking on eggshells around you!”

“I never seem to know what will make you happy!”

“Why can’t you make up your mind?”

If you have ever made these comments or heard them from others, then you know how exasperating this kind of relationship can be, whether it is a personal or business relationship. Never really sure where you stand with the other person leads to this problem. Either you are not being clear or the other person is holding back. And often the reason for the reticence is fear of appearing selfish.

Especially among women there is a fear that if she speaks up about her desires, or dares to put her needs first, she will appear selfish and unloving, or worse yet, aggressive. Not wanting to rock the boat, the woman holds back her own opinion, only later to find that her husband, coworkers, even employees are mad at her. I have had more than one entrepreneurial husband complain that he would love to know what his wife’s opinion was on the subject. Because he doesn’t know where she stands, decisions are unclear and projects are stalled.

A side affect of being “nice” but unclear is that the woman often develops resentments because she is not being recognized. These resentments grow and do not go unnoticed by others. Unfortunately others do not know why she is annoyed, but do feel as if they are walking on eggshells around her. If the spouse, friends, coworkers or employees are not able to cut through the communication problem, they may also begin to hold back for fear of an argument. Then no one knows what anyone wants or what is going on. Obviously this is not good for business relations not to mention the marriage.

The reason this problem is more common for women than men is that women are more concerned about maintaining balance in their relationships whether they work in a family firm or not. Unfortunately most women tire themselves out trying to keep everything in balance, when a few shakeups are in order. For example, in one study the researchers found that career women (including entrepreneurial women) are very reluctant to change things in their work environment if it will upset their spouse, their employees or their customers. Instead these women just do more and more and more to accommodate the wishes of others, growing more tired, annoyed and depressed as time goes by. While balance is a nice goal, it is not always the way to get there. In order to keep creativity alive, in order to grow a business (or a family) there are many changes and corrections that need to be made along the way. Maintaining the status quo may mean stagnation.

The best gift you can give people you care about and work with is to be clear with them about your goals and desires. Even if they don’t agree with you or don’t like your goals, at least they know where you stand. Nothing is hidden. The agenda is on the table and negotiations can proceed. It also may be that your difference of opinion is just what the system needs to be more profitable and productive.

Remember when you were a small child and got a new dress or a new toy or accomplished a new feat like tying your shoes? Weren’t you excited about the acquisition? Didn’t you want to share it with others and watch their faces light up too? Didn’t you feel proud? Those days have long gone and we have been socialized to hide many of our accomplishments and opinions because they may not be acceptable, especially if you are a woman. But it is very important to put your true self out there or you will confuse others and deprive them of your talents.

Here’s another way to look at it. Most people spend their paycheck and if there is anything left other, they may put it into savings or invest it. The problem is that there is usually nothing left over to save each payday. The advice of many financial planners is to put money into savings first and then adapt your budget to live on what’s left. With this latter method you are much more likely to actually save money and create wealth. Just as with saving money, it is equally important to put yourself first (or invest in yourself first). By putting yourself first, by letting people know what you want and who you are, you are investing in yourself in a way that will pay off tremendously. People won’t have to walk on eggshells around you. They will know what your talents are and how to benefit by them. You will surround yourself with people who appreciate you instead of people who need you to appreciate them. This creates an energizing flow between people, just as wealth invested, creates more wealth.

Sex and Infidelity in the Family Firm

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Bill and Monica and Hillary and Andy and Cathy and Paula and … I’m not sure where the connections stop. Obviously infidelity, sexual improprieties and the abuse of power are hot topics right now. With the whole country entranced by the White House sex scandal, you may wonder how I can come up with a column that will take your attention away from the President’s sex life. But SEX just happens to be the subject of this month’s column … Sex and Infidelity in the Family Firm.

You may wonder, as some of us do, why sex causes such problems for people. After all, the sex drive is a normal and necessary part of human life. The problem isn’t that we have a sex drive. The problem is what we do with that drive. As with most human skills sex can be used in a positive healthy way or it can be used to abuse and manipulate. Sex can lead to pleasure, or a love bond within a relationship. Or sex can lead to pain, suffering and corruption.

There is very little in human life that is instinctual. Although the sex drive may be with us from birth, expression of our sexuality is learned. And unfortunately much of what we learn as we grow up, about appropriate sexual behavior is gathered from unreliable sources such as childhood friends, pornographic materials hidden from our parents, television and movies, or worse, through exploitation by unethical adults. Other than a perfunctory sex-education class in public school, where the emphasis is on health and procreation, where does a child learn about sexual techniques, or the relationship between sex and love, or the subtleties of sex in the workplace? Where do they learn about ethics?

Many parents oppose even the scant sex education offered in the public schools. They maintain that sexuality should be taught by the parents, that it is a private matter, that exposing children to these subjects in school will encourage promiscuity. Regardless of the merit of these arguments, I have met few parents who openly discuss sexuality with their kids. Most parents tell me they are more than willing to answer any questions their kids ask about sex, as if any kid in their right mind will let their parents know they are thinking about sex!

So with that minor digression taken care of, back to sex in the family firm. If most of us get a poor education about how to develop our sexual instincts into a healthy expression of our sexuality, then it’s quite likely that most families experience problems at one time or another such as sexual inappropriateness, infidelity, and even abuse. And if that is true for many families, it is true for many family firms.

Jan and Dale were really scared when I first met them. They had been frustrated for years by the poor work performance of their son, Drake whom they were grooming to take over the business when they retired. Drake just didn’t seem to have leadership abilities and his latest escapade was about to sink everything. A female employee had filed a sexual harassment complaint against Drake. It appeared to be true and well documented.

This was not a simple situation of parents neglecting their sons’ sex education, although they had done that too. Jan and Dale had not dealt with their own unresolved problems regarding sex. In earlier years, Dale had been involved in more than one affair. Each affair ended quietly and the couple never again spoke of the problem. Unfortunately, this lack of communication lead to repeated affairs, rather than resolution of the couple’s marital and sexual problems. While Jan thought she was suffering silently and Dale was always repentant, the couple’s children were being profoundly affected. Drake was angry that his father would betray his mother and he was angry that his mother would let Dale get away with it. What Drake was learning about sexuality as a child is that it is something that should be a secret, that sexual behavior hurts other people but that there is nothing you can do about it, that women are helpless in the face of a man’s advances. It is not surprising that with these mixed up messages, Drake went too far when he propositioned an employee. No one had educated him about how to properly handle his sexual impulses. For Dale and Jan, the sexual harassment lawsuit was a wake up call. Sex was only one area in their marriage that was a problem because of poor communication and inappropriate use of power. But it is not only the marriage that is affected. Employees, vendors, business associates, and customers are all affected when sexual improprieties are hidden in a family firm. Drake’s inability to develop leadership in the workplace was a direct result of having no respect for his father. Dale’s leadership was questioned by employees because his son was so irresponsible. Jan was viewed as a long suffering inept wife rather than the competent chief financial officer that she was capable of being. These are not desirable images and certainly affect the bottom line.

Even if infidelity, sexual improprieties and abuse of power do not affect your bottom line, they certainly affect your sense of self esteem and the health of your relationships with the ones you love. So why do people risk it? Lack of education is one reason, as I have already discussed. But other reasons abound too. Essentially sexual misbehavior is a signal of some deeper problem. With the President it could be that power has gone to his head, that when you’re at the top there is no way to assess what normal is anymore. With Monica it could be that she feels powerless in many ways, except when she is seducing men. With Dale, the affairs represented his lack of confidence in dealing with his well educated wife. For Drake, sexual power over an employee was the only way to feel powerful at all, since he was failing miserably in the family business.

Whatever the reason for the sexual impropriety, don’t keep it a secret. Use the signal for what it is, a message about a much needed change in your life and relationships. Among families in business, because of the need to be supportive, nurturing and protective of family members, sexual improprieties are covered up more often than in other settings. As embarrassing as it is to bring these things out, it is more embarrassing to pass the problem along to the next generation and risk everything you have worked so hard for. Seek professional, confidential help from a psychologist.

The President is about to balance the budget, but what has captured America’s attention is his sexual liaisons. If sex is a problem in your family firm, even if you think it is a tightly held secret, just what do you think your customers, employees and other business associates are talking about?